Recently, a new post on one of my favorite blogs- Nourished Kitchen- caught my eye. The post is about the blogger's husband's recovery from Bipolar Disorder thanks partly to the power of eating foods that nourish the body and brain and support healing. There aren't many details of specific foods that were included, but I wanted to include this post here because I feel that it is important to hear real stories of real people regaining their health. It is great to read the science, but sometimes it is also important to put a human face on top of all of the abstractions. The blogger says that she is telling this story, despite how hard it is to bare one's private life so publicly, because she feels these stories need to be told. That same sentiment is what drives my writing of this blog- to spread the word that healing (whether in part or in whole) is possible.
A study published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience looked at more than 160 studies of the effects of food on the brain. Here is the abstract of the study:
It has long been suspected that the relative abundance of specific nutrients can affect cognitive processes and emotions. Newly described influences of dietary factors on neuronal function and synaptic plasticity have revealed some of the vital mechanisms that are responsible for the action of diet on brain health and mental function. Several gut hormones that can enter the brain, or that are produced in the brain itself, influence cognitive ability. In addition, well-established regulators of synaptic plasticity, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, can function as metabolic modulators, responding to peripheral signals such as food intake. Understanding the molecular basis of the effects of food on cognition will help us to determine how best to manipulate diet in order to increase the resistance of neurons to insults and promote mental fitness.
Recently an article appeared in the UCLA Newsroom newsletter about this study and its author, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, who had this to say "Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain...(d)iet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging." This article focuses mostly on findings relating to omega-3 fatty acids, but also includes some other interesting findings as well. Here are some highlights from the article:
"Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses...(o)mega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function."
"Dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in humans has been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,"
"Scientists are learning which omega-3 fatty acids seem to be especially important. One is docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is abundant in salmon. DHA, which reduces oxidative stress and enhances synaptic plasticity and learning and memory, is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in cell membranes in the brain."
"Recent research also supports the hypothesis that health can be passed down through generations, and a number of innovative studies point to the possibility that the effects of diet on mental health can be transmitted across generations"
"Evidence indicates that what you eat can affect your grandchildren's brain molecules and synapses...(w)e are trying to find the molecular basis to explain this."